Michael's later years 1971 -
TREEMAN might have arisen from seven years of Weoley Hill "tittle-tattle". In and around the old Post Office, the village locals, anxious for any scrap of news, were taking a little longer than usual to pass the time of day. Attendance had gone up in the associations, societies; indulgence in the prime topic of neighbourhood gossip was the cause. When a group saw Michael coming he would distinctly hear "Treeman" and a lull in the conversation - everyone would give a smile as the time of day was exchanged - the conversation would resume when he was considered beyond earshot. They knew he had leaned over the boundary and sawn the top off Stanton's trees. It was the type of thing one did not do, distinctly illegal if you ask me. Yet the fellow was badly boxed by two neighbours. Provocation? Yes, you could call it that - but "any road up" in Black Country vernacular - that's how Michael gained the name Treeman from his immediate neighbours and started bringing Leylandii into the common language.
Some clubs are licensed but residents overwhelmingly refuse to have pubs on the Bournville Village Trust Estate itself but the ones on the periphery are well patronized and there, rampant gossip dominated all conversation when on 9th October 1994 the media splashed the intriguing HEDGE saga from the Court of Appeal. The HEDGEMAN nickname arose from so many sources it will never be known who or how many ascribed it first. Outside the City it was the BIRMINGHAM HEDGEMAN.
HEDGEMAN covers a nasty, notorious, vicious, "growing" neighbour dispute, death, assault, profligate litigation, court hearings, lawyers, blunders, media chat shows, campaign rallies, march on Downing Street, politicians, meetings with ministers, the political campaign, both Houses of Parliament, every debate thwarted at the end, Michael's solicitor stealing his money and committing suicide, the Law Society, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council. Finally there is Hedgeline, a crusade with the legislative control of nuisance hedges finally achieved in the autumn of 2003.
HEDGEMAN reflects on the later life and times of the central character in the humdrum life of the Jones family in the quietest of suburbs in Quaker land. Moving house, old Labour, school-teaching, gardening, West Bromwich Albion, early retirement, Victim Support, Peace, birth of grandchildren and family tensions. But it is the fame, consequences and notoriety of Maureen and Michael's big decision, that stimulated the writing of the book and dominates it.
August 1984 on the brightest of summer days
4th April 1987. Stanton starts to cut a couple of feet off the top of his trees. I shout, "Bernard, a complete waste of time and money." The contractors stop work, gaze at me then switch to looking down at Stanton on the other side of the hedge, waiting for a non-forthcoming verbal response. They get a gesture and continue the work. "Pleading with you has finished and I am not paying for any more solicitors letters - if you do not remove that nuisance from my garden, then I will". The work stopped again as the men waited for further confirmation. Little did Stanton realize that he had made a big decision starting a train of events that would change the rest of his and his family's life forever. It was also the start of a hole that he would not stop digging for years. Although not making a conscious effort to do so I had used the singular 'nuisance' not 'trees' plural indicating that 'a hedge' was in my mind - it was never referred to as a hedge by the Stantons or their lawyers.
I bought myself a good quality 14-inch pruning saw. It should be preserved as a legal archive. Over the next two years I used it to remove tons of timber before taking it to the tip. Only that on my side of the fence was touched. It was necessary to dodge the thrusts of a rusty iron pipe and get drenched by a hose.
1st April 1989. Maureen and I, having made our "big decision" I sawed 5 feet off the top of the first spike and Stanton rammed his metal piping upwards, knocking me off my ladder, and then calls the police. It goes to the sergeant, the inspector, the superintendent and finally the Chief Constable's office. So it takes till August before I can level out the top. However we enjoyed an extra 30 feet long by 6 feet wide piece of garden since cutting back the timbers to the boundary; that could arguably be legal but what about "going over the top?" The trees were without doubt Stanton's trees, planted by him, in his garden. Thrillingly we had gained a strip of light 30feet long and 5 feet high in our living room. What was the price we had to pay? Police didn't want to know. So how would he retaliate? What was in mind was astonishing lethal and changed the course of the dispute. Stanton jnr had entered the conflict and the family had every cause to regret his intervention capturing a seething anger of his parents when there were wiser counsels.
The Stantons erected a scaffolding tower. Twenty rungs of the ladder are shown and more sunk into the foreground. The picture is a poor quality photo copy. Colour originals are in the court files
In excitement Freda Stanton dropped a full bottle of ribena on her foot and died of a blood clot in the lung. I had a letter attributing that sad event to me.
Views of the hedge from Stanton's side and mine on court day 14th. November 1992. In Recorder Wolton's judgement I had the right to reduce the height. In the Court of Appeal on 8th October 1994, Lord Justices Butler-Sloss and Millet upheld the County Court decision and the hedge went on growing as the Stantons went on hole-digging.
This is a very famous photograph taken by Ian. The Stantons came back to the County Court for a 3-day hearing on 29th November 1995 with 6 year old evidence of their so called 'expert' that I had damaged their trees unto death and produced lurid pictures of savage saw cuts taken above the hedge from their scaffolding tower. This was all they had. By now my photograph had been blown up on a 20 by 18 inches board by the studio technicians of the "Esther" show. The camera had magnified it and zoomed from the top of my baldhead to the top of the hedge. Millions saw it. Now my barrister dramatically produced it before the expert who admitted his testimony was quite wrong. My solicitor handed me a piece of paper with words in capitals YOU HAVE WON. For the remainder of the hearing my picture was in an upright position in front of the court. Siguy Films produced the very first film, taken from my house in the series "Neighbours from Hell" for Carlton TV. It went out to 11 and a half million viewers. The photo was afterwards mislaid and not returned although my name address and significance is clearly written on the back. Maybe someone will see my appeal and return it to me.
Further items to follow. Serialised from April 2004.